The hits keep coming as we continue exploring the best draft picks of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Continuing in its tradition of finding gems in small colleges the scouting team picked some real winners in round six making these selections the toughest so far.
Just as a reminder, our selection process covers the Steelers drafts since Chuck Noll was participating and requires players (with rare exception) to have played in Pittsburgh for the majority of their career in order to qualify.
Unfortunately, the Black and Gold don’t have any sixth-round selections this year in the 2023 NFL Draft. They traded it away to the Denver Broncos as part of the Malik Reed trade in late August of last year. Rubbing salt in the wound, Reed is now playing for the Miami Dolphins.
Just close your eyes and plug your ears when they are flashing up available players in this year’s six round of the draft. The pain will be more bearable that way.
Here are some of the Steelers most recent sixth round draft selections: (2013) Vince Williams, (2013) Justin Brown, (2014) Daniel McCullers, (2014) Jordan Zumwalt, (2015) Anthony Chickillo, (2015) Leterrius (L.T.) Walton, (2016) Travis Feeney, (2017) Colin Holba, (2019) Ulysees Gilbert, (2019) Isaiah Buggs, (2019) Sutton Smith, (2020) Antoine Brooks Jr., (2021) Quincy Roche, (2022) Connor Heyward.
If we’re reviewing that list with any modicum of sobriety we’d agree most of these are swings and misses when it comes to having a chance to make an appearance on this list.
It’s too early to judge last year’s rookies, although there certainly is some enthusiasm around Connor Heyward. Maybe he wasn’t selected just to make a certain brother happy after all. (Although…let’s be real, there was that as well.)
Of the Tomlin-era sixth rounders, two did make the cut, although it required me to make this a top seven list. That’s fine. Seven is a lucky number, right? And the truth is I just couldn’t keep Williams off of the list and I didn’t want to cheat the guys in front of him.
This list of standouts is headlined by a persona non grata for most Steelers and NFL fans. But even if he allowed his once promising career in NFL to crash famously in flames and shame, you aren’t going to keep Antonio Brown off the Spin’s list.
So…let’s get to it. Here are your greatest draft hits of the sixth round.
Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Sixth Round
|1||Antonio Brown||WR||2010||Central Michigan|
|2||Greg Lloyd||LB||1987||Fort Valley State|
|3||Tunch Ilkin||T||1980||Indiana State|
|6||Gary Dunn||NT||1976||Miami (Fl.)|
|7||Vince Williams||LB||2013||Florida State|
For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to count his last year as a Steeler as just one wild acid trip in the career of Antonio Brown. We won’t even mention the rest. I’m not giving him a straight mulligan as his behavior has been abhorrent, but I’m also not going to forget the player he was when wearing the Black and Gold. Antonio Brown was one of the original “Young Money” receivers for the Steelers, teaming up with fellow posse members Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. With both Wallace and Sanders taking their money and running, the Steelers acted wisely at the time by choosing the best of the bunch.
Brown was initially the least regarded of the three but his famous “ball on the side of the helmet” catch in his rookie season flashed the greatness that would soon come to be fully realized. Brown established himself as one of the NFL’s best by 2013 and by many learned analysts had been the league’s top ball catcher for several seasons running before his bizarre implosion ended his time in Pittsburgh. Had he finished his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler with dignity, Brown probably would have been behind only Tom Brady as the GOAT of all the NFL’s sixth-round draft picks of the modern era. Ironically, even Tom Brady couldn’t tame the beast haunting Antonio through his later years.
There will probably never be a player like Jack Lambert who so embodied the fierceness of great Steelers linebackers, but Greg Lloyd may come close. Lloyd, a black belt in the martial arts, took nothing from nobody…and that included his own teammates. He was just…mean…and that fit in perfectly for the Steelers’ elite defenses of the 1990s. In addition to having the quintessential temperament, he also had top-level talent and was the prototypical edge rush 3-4 linebacker. Not only was Lloyd capable of getting to the quarterback—having collected 53.5 sacks for the team in his career—but he seemed always to make big plays when the team needed them most.
Lloyd’s career ended with injury, having first blown out his knee and then later suffering from an unfortunate staph infection after an ankle sprain. He got back on the field but was never the same great player that thrilled Steelers fans and struck terror in the hearts of opponents for so many years.
In many ways there is a four-way tie in the three spot, but Tunch Ilkin gets the nod here because of his post-playing days as a beloved broadcaster and…well…because he was such a nice guy. But Ilkin was also an excellent player for the Steelers and a team favorite during the final years of Coach Chuck Noll’s reign. Ilkin was not highly regarded as a rookie and had to work his way back to Pittsburgh — he did not make the team following his first training camp — and into the lineup. He did it by perhaps developing the finest technique of any offensive lineman the Steelers have ever had. His savvy was such as a student of the game that he was a sought-after line consultant having innovated the league famous “Tunch’s Punch.”
The two-time Pro Bowler was the kind of player and individual that any coach would dream of having in their locker room. Sadly, Tunch was lost to us at the age of 63 in 2021 due to ALS complications. A true blow for the Pittsburgh community which he loved and served so well.
Dwayne Woodruff was one of the best Steelers ever at getting interceptions and his talent was such that he was able to get playing time even for the team’s great defense of the late 1970s. He hauled in 37 interceptions over his career. Woodruff was such a smart player he earned a law degree during his time playing on the team, becoming a judge following his NFL career.
Despite a few recent misfires, when it comes to drafts there is one thing over the past four decades you could say about Pittsburgh Steelers scouts: They know their linebackers. Bryan Hinkle handled what is perhaps the team’s most prestigious position for 12 seasons for the Steelers. Although he wasn’t the most spectacular of the famous linebackers he may qualify as perhaps the most steady. Hinkle was as equally adept at rushing the quarterback as he was in picking them off as he finished his career with 22.5 sacks and 15 interceptions. In 1986 he was a second-team All-Pro pick.
Imagine how difficult it must have been for Gary Dunn when he entered the league as a Steelers rookie. First, he realizes that he will have to beat out Joe Greene if he wants to start and secondly that he’ll have to face Mike Webster every day during practice. He didn’t fair well at either but getting to play with the best prepared him years later when he got his turn to be a starter. Dunn was the original great Steelers 3-4 nose tackle and was the model for which others, like Joel Steed and Casey Hampton, would aspire to be.
What made him so unique in addition to his gifts at stopping the run was his pass rushing ability. He managed to get 22 sacks during his career, oftentimes while having to take on double teams in the heart of the scrum.
Vincenzo Jerard Williams had not only been a stout force against the run since he started his career with the Steelers, but he was an inspirational force on and off the field as well. When you’re paired up with linebackers like speed freaks Ryan Shazier and Devin Bush Jr., you’re going to appear to be a step behind. But Williams’ game film always displayed athleticism and grit and you’d never run through the man. Probably only second to Cameron Heyward in terms of defensive leadership during his time with the Steelers, Vince earned his place in modern Steelers lore for his heart and determination.
Just Missed the Cut:
Willie Williams (1993) The end of the 1990s was a rough time to be a Steelers fan because the team didn’t seem to keep ANY of its free agents. Willie Williams was a promising young player who was one of those that flew the coop. He gets mentioned here because he finally came to his senses and returned to Pittsburgh to finish his career. In many ways he was a player similar to William Gay in that he was much better than what fans gave him credit for. Because if you play opposite Rod Woodson…you WILL be targeted. Despite that, he always held up his side of the field.
Previous Greatest Hits